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When I left the consulate, I didn’t want to go back to the hotel just yet. Gupta was supposed to have moved to his own room by now. But even if he had, I wasn’t anxious to move back into his controlling sphere. I could hear the ocean from the street in front of the consulate, so I picked my way through the muddy streets there and, shortly, found myself at the edge of the beach overlooking the Bay of Bengal. From here the sea looked vast and the beach looked almost pristine, even though it bordered a teeming city of nearly five million. That figure alone made me shudder—a city that few in the West even knew about located near the end of the earth and with five million inhabitants.
There were only a few people out on the beach, most of them just standing and looking out to sea. I fancied they all were seeking a private moment, turning toward a vast emptiness and away from a human anthill.
He was standing about half way between the upper edge of the sand and the waves lapping up on the beach. For some reason I recognized him even from the back—out of all of those five million people in Chennai—and even though he no longer wore the clothes he’d been interviewed in.
He was short and a rich brown, but unlike so many in the north, he wasn’t thin and emaciated looking. He was beautifully formed even by Western standards. He was bare above and wearing a white dhoti flowing down to his ankles. The dhoti was being ruffled in the sea breeze, and occasionally opened enough to show a well-turned, if miniature, calf. His feet were in thin-soled sandals. His biceps and shoulders were well muscled, and there was a dip from his shoulder blades and broad shoulders down to a thin waist before his buttocks flared out in back. Not his hips, though, he didn’t have the hips of a woman.
When I came up beside him, I saw that he had his arms folded across his well-muscled chest. A gold medallion on a thick gold chain hung from his neck, the medallion nestled in the cleavage of his chest. He had a sweet, enticing scent about him. Of cloves and cinnamon, and I ever after was to think of the sweetness of these smells when I thought of him.
“Hello,” I said. “It’s Sanjay, is it not?”
“Yes, hello, Mr. Jenkins,” he answered in a soft voice. “Did you hear the sea calling?”
“Yes, exactly,” I answered, a bit surprised because only now I realized that this was so. “Did you as well?”
“Yes, I often come out here to listen to the sea. Often I need to withdraw.”
“Yes, from Chennai, from the taboos of Indian society.”
“I’m not sure I know what you mean,” I answered, my heart beginning to beat faster, because I had a definite inkling that I did know what he meant.
He turned and gave me a sharp, knowing look, that went to the quick of me. Then he returned his gaze to the sea. “I have a feeling that you do know.”
My heart was racing. Should I just pretend I hadn’t heard him say that? His voice was low. Could he believe that a statement that stripped all pretense from me had gone unheard?
“You did well in the interview and the testing today,” I said.
“I’m glad to hear that.”
“My heart soars at the sound of that.”
There was silence between us for nearly a minute, but it wasn’t an uncomfortable silence. It was more of a building of the senses and of a sensuality in just being close to each other. I certainly felt it, but I felt the heat of it coming off his body too, even though the sea breeze was getting chilly. I moved a hand out from my body, toward him, and although I didn’t see him noticing I’d made that gesture, he placed his hand in mine.
“If I asked you to come with me, now, would you do it?” It was not of my own will that I said that; it just came out of me.
“I’m not talking about for more testing for the position.”
“I know you’re not.”